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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC Study: Orphaned Boys in Low- and Middle-income Countries as Vulnerable to Abuse as Girls

Orphaned children in low- and middle-income countries face a high risk of trauma, with physical and sexual abuse being by far the most prevalent traumatic events. New research shows that orphaned boys in these settings are just as likely to experience abuse as girls. As a result, the authors suggest targeting more support services and prevention programs toward protecting vulnerable boys.

[Photo: There are more than 250 orphans in this small village outside Lilongwe, Malawi, most of whose parents died from HIV/AIDS. A UNC and Duke study has found that orphans are vulnerable to abuse, regardless of setting or gender. About half experience abuse by age 13]

The study, led by Ms. Christine L. Gray, doctoral student in epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, was published online April 24 in the journal Global Mental Health. Dr. Brian W. Pence, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School, is a co-author.

Researchers found that physical and sexual abuse affects 12 percent of girls and 14 percent of boys in institution-based care and 19 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys in family-based care annually. By age 13, approximately half of orphans experience abuse, regardless of gender or setting.

Despite similarities in abuse instances across gender, international funding mechanisms — such as the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the United Nations task force on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse — often place special emphasis on protecting girls, while neglecting the need to protect orphaned boys from abuse.

“The findings show that boys are as vulnerable to abuse as girls,” Ms. Gray said. “Funding for support services often focuses on girls, but investment in boys is critically important, too. Providing support to boys not only protects them, but aids in preventing the cycle of abuse. Ultimately, that prevention helps protect both girls and boys.”

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